Mary Magdalene (1st century AD) was believed to be a reformed prostitute and is identified as the woman who 'was a sinner' at the house of Pharisee, who washed Christ's feet with her tears, wiped them with her hair and anointed them. Christ then forgave her sins. She was present at the Crucifixion and found Christ's tomb empty after the Resurrection. Initially she mistook him for a gardener but then recognized him, and Christ bade her, "Touch me not, for I am not yet ascended to my Father; but go to my brethren and say to them, I ascend unto my Father."

Mary was the sister of Martha and Lazarus, with whom she was set adrift at sea, landing in Marseilles. She made many converts and performed miracles, then retired into the wilderness where she ate nothing but was nourished by angels. A hermit witnessed how angels descended and lifted her up seven times a day, and at the appointed hour of her death a choir of angels brought her to church to be blessed.

Mary Magdalene may not have been a prostitute after all, nor even, perhaps the unnamed woman Jesus stopped from getting stoned. There is actually nothing in the Bible that explicitly calls her a prostitute, and that belief derived from implication and innuendo.

Rumors that have arisen recently about Mary Magdalene (recently meaning over the last couple milennia) and her true relationship to Jesus and company:

  • Mary was one of the original apostles. All references suggesting as much were removed by the early Church when redacting and adopting the Canon. This is suggested by her strange prominence in all of Jesus' doings. At the least, she must have been an extremely devoted disciple to tag along with Jesus for so long.

  • Mary was a temple prostitute. Some have suggested that Mary was actually a temple prostitute of some pagan religion, converted to Jesus' theology.

  • Mary was very rich, and actually bankrolled Jesus' cause. According to some, the only women who might have been as independent and unfettered as Mary seemed to be were either whores or wealthy landowners who inherited money and land from their spouses/brothers/fathers. By this, if she wasn't a prostitute, she would, therefore, be a wealthy landowner, respectable and powerful.

  • Many have pointed out that Jesus was a respected teacher and rabbi. And yet by Jewish tradition (then and now), a rabbi wasn't supposed to be an ascetic, removed life and life's pleasures; rather, a rabbi was supposed to be married and have many kids. A great deal of people have suggested that Mary was married to Jesus. From this starting point, two theories have arisen:

  • Mary's baby was Barabbas, and Jesus didn't die young. Barabbas grew up to become a zealot, was captured, and then scheduled to be crucified. Jesus arranged himself to be crucified in his son's stead, and the Barabbas of the Bible who was mysteriously chosen to live over Jesus was his son.

  • The second theory is even more outlandish: Jesus got Mary pregnant, and then Jesus was crucified. Fearful for her unborn child's life, Mary fled to southern France under the protection of Joseph of Arimathea. Her child was born, a girl named Sophia. From there, the bloodline of Jesus continued on (the famed holy grail that supposedly carried Jesus' blood was actually Mary's womb). Supposedly, this bloodline can be found in the original rulers of France and Ireland. The Knights Templar were formed in order to protect said bloodline (some even say that the Knights Templar were of that bloodline). Their order was, of course, destroyed in order to surpress/eliminate this heresy from the Earth.

Many of these theories and implications were developed from superstition, vague implications in Christian cannon, and some slightly more plain implications in The Gnostic Gospels.

I don't really believe any of them. They are interesting, though, and they do offer an interesting perspective on history.

Mary, called the Magdalene (after Magdala on the west shore of Galilee or possibly from a Talmudic phrase implying adultery), occupies a unique place of honor in the Gospels. In all four Gospels she is named as standing at the foot of Jesus' cross and as one of the women who went to Jesus' tomb to anoint his body, and in three of these she is identified as the first of Jesus' followers to encounter the risen Christ.

Popular imagination has identified Mary Magdalene as a prostitute, in spite of the lack of explicit evidence for this in the Gospels themselves. There are perhaps many reasons for this, but it may have originated in the Gospel of Luke, where Mary is introduced as a woman from whom Jesus cast out seven demons, shortly after a story in which Jesus forgives the sins of "a woman in the city who was a sinner" and blesses her. There is no apparent connection between the two people in Luke except proximity.

Now, here's where things get complex. (It might help to fetch Granny's weathered copy of the Good Book at this point and follow along.) In John 11 Mary of Bethany, sister of Martha and Lazarus, is identified as "that Mary who anointed the Lord with fragrant oil and wiped His feet with her hair," certainly the actions of the sinner in Luke 7. Mary of Bethany performs those very actions in the next chapter of John, when Jesus dines at her and Martha's house. Some have therefore argued that this later act is what John is referring to and Bethany and the "sinful woman" are not the same. Others say that John, writing many years after Mary's death, wants to make sure that his readers understand clearly that this Mary is the same sinner who anointed Jesus on an earlier occasion and was now doing so again. Luke, they say, may have wished to obscure this fact when he wrote his gospel out of respect for the still-living Mary.

The link connecting Mary of Bethany and the "sinful woman" to Mary Magdalene is more of an intuitive leap. Magdalene occupies such a central role during the Passion and the Resurrection while Mary of Bethany, who plays such an important part in Jesus' ministry, is not mentioned at all. Since Mary of Bethany is so particularly blessed, it is argued, it seems strange that she should so abruptly and unaccountably disappear from the narrative and an entirely different Mary step in. The two must be identical, they feel.

Though some may feel that saying this holy and virtuous woman was a prostitute earlier in life is character assassination, in the context of Christian belief it has the opposite effect. Christ, it is believed, came especially for the ungodly, the broken-hearted and hopeless. For someone whose life was mired in sin to recognize Jesus of Nazareth as the Son of God and fall at his feet in love to do him honor, while the self-righteous religious leaders who have invited him to dinner look on in horror, provides a powerful testimony to God's power to heal the broken in spirit, and Magdalene becomes an icon to those who feel lost and unworthy. That such a person should be chosen to be the first to behold the risen Christ's glory affirms Jesus' teaching that in the Kingdom of God, the last shall be first.

In general, Protestant and Eastern churches have traditionally believed these three to be separate, while the Latin tradition holds that Madgalene, Bethany, and the sinful woman are the same. The traditions of the Greek Church say that Mary retired to Ephesus, (which is supported by Gregory of Tours) and that her relics were preserved at Constantinople. The French believe that Mary and Lazarus came with some others to Provence and that the head of St. Mary Magdalene rests in the church of La Sainte-Baume.

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